Pastor Will's sermon for Christ the King Sunday, November 25 2018
read John 18:33-37
So at Holy Trinity we follow a liturgical calendar that moves through religious seasons that help us grow in our experience, and in our understanding of who God is as revealed through Jesus who we claim to be the Christ. (now that's a packed sentence!)
These seasons throughout the year share with us who we understand God to be in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
So let’s do a quick review of these seasons…
During Advent, we tap into the human condition and longing for peace and salvation. It’s easy to see we live in a broken world and so we wait, we hope for and we anticipate that God will do something about it. And while we wait and work and pray, we hear the prophets cry out the promise that a Messiah is on the way.
At Christmas, we celebrate and give thanks that this promise is fulfilled. The Messiah, the Christ, was born in our midst. That God did do something about our world and the human condition by taking on our human flesh and brokenness, was born of Mary and placed in a manger.
During Epiphany, and the Sundays after the Epiphany, the star of Bethlehem shines on Jesus and spotlights who this Jesus really is, why we claim him as the Christ, and we all “wow, I had an Epiphany” of why he matters.
Then during the season of Lent, we begin to understand where Jesus’ life and journey takes him. It’s a road to a cross, where he dies for the sake of the world.
And it is a sad and tragic story… but Alleluia! That’s not the end of the story, here comes Easter!
At Easter we hear the good news that the tomb is empty.
Death does not win, death does not have the final word… Love wins, God’s love has the final word in our lives… and because Christ lives we will live also. Because Christ has defeated death all of creation shifts and moves in a new direction, a direction towards life rather than death.
And then at Pentecost the Holy Spirit breathes this new life into the followers of Jesus, shaping them into a community and church that continues Jesus’ ministry and mission in the world. And so we now become the Body of Christ in the world, Christ’s hands and feet… bringing the Kingdom of God into reality for a world that hungers for it.
And so the crescendo of the liturgical year leads us to today. Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year and before we jump into Advent and Christmas the Church boldly celebrates Christ the King Sunday!
Now I know we are in this time of year some call, “hallow-thank-mas”, where Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas gets all jumbled up. Just walk through a Wal-Mart or Target in late October and early November and you will see what I mean.
Right now Christmas music is in full swing, we are decorating, and we are shopping and that’s ok… but Christ the King Sunday gets a little overshadowed.
I’m afraid you will not find any “Happy Christ the King” greeting cards or “Christ the King Black Sunday Sales”… It may not get a lot of attention and so even more the reason for the Church to get counter cultural and boldly celebrate Christ as our true King.
Now the claim and title “Christ the King” doesn’t come without some baggage.
For us American’s we don’t have “kings” or “queens”, sure, we get enchanted by the pageantry of a royal wedding but we don’t want any authoritative monarchs telling us what to do… right? We elect our leaders, dog gone it!
And then there is the patriarchal title of Christ as “King”… we are more inclusive and progressive than that… right?
Monarchical, Tyrannical, and Authoritarian images of God don’t sit well (as they shouldn’t!), they are problematic in our understanding of God, yet we long for security and a ruler that is on our side.
And so some churches re-brand this Sunday as “The Reign (or Rule) of Christ Sunday”, but even that falls short of what we trying to communicate and proclaim.
Interestingly, the “Feast of Christ the King” was instituted by
Pope Pius XI in 1925 as a response to the rise of secularism, nationalism and fascism in Europe at that time.
Umm, interesting… secularism/nationalism/fascism… that’s all history right? (can you sense my sarcasm?)
Post WWI, within the time of the roaring 20s, before the Stock Market Crash and WWII, Pope Pius wanted to draw a distinction between the type of King Jesus is and the type of kings and authoritative dictatorships that were on the rise at that time, and if we are honest, what we still wrestle with today.
And so this Sunday we ask some blunt questions…
If Jesus is Lord, if Jesus is the Christ (the anointed One of God), if Jesus is Christ the King, what kind of King is he and what type of impact does that have not only on our “religious life” but within every aspect of our daily living?
And this includes our politics.
Claiming Jesus as the Christ, calling Christ our King should challenge our common life together.
We all get a little squirmy (myself included) when church and politics get in the same room with one another, but claiming Jesus as the Christ, proclaiming Christ as King is a political act.
I believe it is helpful to address Christ as King, because it wouldn’t work to call today “Christ the President Sunday” or “Christ the Senator Sunday”, because Christ is who he is despite how we vote, or if we decide to elect him or not.
It’s really Christ who elects us and not the other way around.
And so our gospel lesson from John shares with us a tale of two kings, two kingdoms, two kinds of power. Christ the King Sunday shows us this distinction between Pilate and Jesus.
We know the back story, right?
Jesus preached and taught and did some radical signs that reveal what God’s kingdom is all about and that got him arrested.
And we know the story that follows right after our lesson for today… Jesus is crucified on a cross, placed in a tomb, Mary discovers the tomb is empty and the world is never the same. But on Christ the King Sunday we focus on this particular conversation between Pilate and Jesus to show a distinction on what kind of King Jesus really is.
Pilate summons Jesus into his presence to check this rebel out for himself.
And he asks Jesus plainly if he is a king… notice he doesn’t ask if he’s the Messiah, this is a political charge rather than religious charge. Pilate wouldn’t care if this is some religious fanatic but he would care if a new political ruler threaten his authority.
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
Of course Jesus doesn’t take the bait, as Jesus usually does, he answers a question with a question.
“Is this your question, or is this coming from someone else?”
(in other words, are you feeling the pressure from some lobbyists?)
Pilate responds, “Hey wait a minute, your people hand you over to me. (Let’s not forget who is in control here!)”
The conversation hits it’s own crescendo with Jesus’ revelation, “My Kingdom is not from this world. If it were my followers would be fighting for me, but my way is a different way.”
“Ah ha! So you are a King!”
Jesus basically says, “Those are your titles and labels… but I came into this world to reveal the truth, and those who belong to my Kingdom listen to my voice.”
Now we could be tempted into some kind of escapism here.
Jesus shares that his Kingdom is not “from this world” but that doesn’t mean it’s removed from it.
Within the Lord’s Prayer we pray weekly, hopefully daily…
“Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done… on earth as it is in heaven.”
There is no separation from God’s Kingdom and the world we live in.
And look, Jesus is subtle enough, and humble enough, and secure enough that he doesn’t need the attention, or need to have the most liked tweets… but he does call for his followers to listen to his voice. And by listening to him we take his lead in how we live and interact in this world here and now.
We follow the lead from our Christ, our King, our Lord by feeding the hungry, defending the oppressed, welcoming the marginalized, and taking the posture of non-violence.
As we enter into a new liturgical year, we move and live with Christ as our King leading the way. There is nothing innately wrong with “hallow-thank-mas”… there is a lot to decorate, and shopping lists to make, and parties to go to… that’s all a part of the joy of this season. And I’m sure politics and the escapades of empires will still make the headlines in the midst of it all...
But don’t let it overshadow the hope we have in Christ.
Don’t let it overshadow the Christ who is a different kind of king.
In fact not only don’t let it overshadow Christ, but may this different kind of Christ and different kind of King impact and shape how we celebrate the season and how we do politics.
Because you see zealots and crusaders seek to overcome evil or defend power through violence and intimidation, pushing a “us vs. them” mentality…
But Jesus models something different.
Within in his life, teaching, death, and resurrection Jesus shows a different way, a different kind of Kingdom. Jesus shows a co-suffering love, radical forgiveness, and an explicit counter-cultural grace.
This isn’t a fairy tale.
This is a real world reality.
Empires that assassinate by means of a cross really happens and non-violent protests and resistance happens right here in our backyard.
I get frustrated and overwhelmed with fake news and political urgency too, but we have been entrusted with some really good news of a King who loves us to death and back. Don’t lose hope and do not let this good news of our grace filled King get overshadowed.
As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we are called to share and live this good news each and every day, that there is a power, there is a Kingdom, and there is a King whose compassion, love and mercy is given freely to each and every one of us.
May this prayer “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” be answered through us.